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Ancient Japan. Fleeing from enemies, two wounded samurai arrive at a strange old temple in a remote location in the mountains. The doors to the place are opened by a beautiful and exotic woman, who beckons them inside. Unable to walk any further, they collapse from exhaustion. One of the samurai awakens to find himself miraculously healed. He meets his saviour, a mysterious man who tells him that his friend died from his wounds. The samurai is persuaded to stay the night. His host tells him the legend of the "Tengu", a goblin which is said to reside in the mountains dining on the flesh of men. He goes on to reveal the true name of the Tengu : Aragami. When the samurai asks if Aragami poses a threat to the temple, his host answers : "I am Aragami". The only way for the Samurai to leave the temple is to destroy Aragami. Written by
Yukihiko Tsutsumi and Ryûhei Kitamura each finished their contributions to the short film anthology Jam Films (2002) in record time. As a result producer Shin'ya Kawai gave the two directors a proposal to each create a feature length movie with only two actors, battling in one setting and filmed entirely in one week. The undertaking was called the Duel Project. This was Ryuhei Kitamura's result and Yukihiko Tsutsumi's 2LDK (2003). See more »
When both Ryuhei Kitamura and Yukihiko Tsutsumi finished their short films for the Jam anthology early, their producer gave them something new to try. In the space of one week they were each to produce a film, using only two man characters, one location and it had to be focused around a fight. This was called the "Duel" project.
Kitamuras film was "Aragami". The title meaning "fierce deity", and the story revolving around a demon who seeks an opponent who can beat him in combat, taking a wounded samurai in and healing him so that they can face of in a climatic battle. The story, essentially being a simple good versus evil affair was very well done. At times it's hard to tell if one of them is evil, or if they both are in fact evil. And there are enough plot twists to keep your attention throughout this whole suspense filled feature.
Try as I might, I find it almost impossible to find anything to complain about with this film, it really is something amazing. It's a very atmospheric film. Kitamura makes excellent use of light to make the temple look suitably dark and mysterious. From flickering candle light, to eerie purple light flooding in from the night outside, to breath taking lighting that gleams from swords classing in the dark. "Aragami" is a very beautifully shot film, with excellent use of camera angles and not just during the fight scenes. But he made superb use of it to highlight both characters persona throughout.
The use of music was also really well done in this film. At times it heats up the action speeding your heartbeat, at other times it helps establish a more calm mood. During the final battle the use of sound makes it seem like we are almost on a roller coaster. The protagonists feelings of suspicion at the beginning is not only conveyed through acting, but through the music that accompanies his realisations. The use of music is possibly most notable when it helps reinforce the almost friendship that the two of them forge over their drinks and conversation.
Both of the main characters were very well acted, which for some reason I was surprised at. Perhaps it was the depth of the acting that did it for me. Or how quickly they were able to change the mood, and focus of the conversation. At one point the Aragami seems very evil and dark, but in a matter of a few words the focus is shifted onto the protagonist, making him appear as a cold and heartless monster. This was very well done, and very believable. You really get the feeling that the Aragami is bored, ancient and somewhat noble.
The only problems I can find with this film, is that it does have an incredibly slow pace up until the much anticipated climatic battle. Perhaps this was intentional, as to make us more desperate to see them tear into each other but I felt it wasn't very well done. For most of the film the two of them are just sitting there talking over drinks, and while this is well acted there isn't enough action to excite us until the finale.
Kitamura teases us with a little bit of a fight early one, but it's not until the end that we finally see one of his trademark epic battles. Which in itself could have been better, it wasn't as fast as his other films. Perhaps due to the "Anime" posing the characters did while the talked to each other during the fight. If they had just tore into each other in a brutal show of skill the film would have been so much better.
Some slight issues with the pace of the movie, but in all a very well made and entertaining film. And for anyone who has seen "Versus", you're bound to chuckle a little when you see the ending.
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